Four FCS UAV Sub-Contracts Awarded
In July 2005, Lead Systems Integrators (LSI) Boeing and SAIC awarded 4 contracts to 3 premier industry partners for the first phase of development for 2 classes of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as part of the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) program. The contracts range in value from $3 million to $5 million, and the UAVs were slated for fielding in 2014 with the first fully-equipped FCS brigade-sized combat teams.
Or not. A January 9, 2007 release from US Army indicates that its Class II and Class III UAV programs are not slated for deployment, and existing UAVs (the RQ-7 Shadow and Warrior / ERMP UAV currently in development) would fill those roles. This is extremely bad news for rotorcraft manufacturer Piasecki, who was hoping for a win to bring its innovative rotary technologies into the mainstream and give the firm itself the same kind of “serious presence status” accorded its founder. The decision will also have an impact on other firms, and it’s worth a quick look at the new and existing UAVs affected by this move:
Updates and Developments:
Jan 9/07 The official release “Army Makes Adjustments to Future Force Unmanned Aerial Systems” indicates that its Class II and Class III UAV programs are not slated for deployment, and existing UAVs (the RQ-7 Shadow and Warrior/ERMP UAV currently in development) will fill those roles.
June 12/06: DARPA awards incremental funding under a pair of Organic Air Vehicle-II contracts worth a total of $77.4 million. Who were the lucky two? Small business qualifier Aurora Flight Sciences Corp. in Manassas, VA received a $5.7 million increment as part of a $38.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (HR0011-05-C-0035), and Honeywell International Inc. in Albuquerque, NM received a $5.2 million increment as part of a $39.1 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (HR0011-05-C-0043).
July 2005: The Boeing-SAIC contracts detailed below were based on technical, management, schedule, past performance and cost criteria, following a thorough source selection process in which the Army and the LSI acted as ‘honest brokers’ to ensure fairness in the review process and to secure the most qualified contractors. Boeing noted that the comprehensive process was accomplished in record time.
The contracts included:
Class II UAV System
Piasecki Aircraft Corp. received a contract [PDF format] for development of its Class II UAV Air Scout system that would equip company-size units. Its twin rotors are designed to provide improved stability and control, while its exceptionally low cross-section is designed to help make it harder to see while it’s observing and designating targets for attack.
The Air Scout is a scaled down unmanned version of PiAC’s PA-59H Air Geep technology demonstrator vehicles. Team Air Scout includes Piasecki as Prime Contractor with responsibility for air vehicle development. Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Owego, NY provides subcontractor support for systems engineering, mission systems integration, software development, integration and test. Sparta, Inc. provides subcontractor support for logistics and training, Drexel University for the collision avoidance sensor system, and Georgia Institute of Technology for the UAV’s autonomy programming. Despite its sci-fi appearance (see graphic below), the manned Air Geep II program dates back to 1962.
DARPA’s OAV-II, which will use ducted fan technology to achieve similar performance, will compete against the Air Scout. Aurora Flight Sciences’ team (GoldenEye UAVs) includes Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics Robotic Systems as subcontractors. OAV-II competitor Honeywell International leads a team with subcontractors AAI, AVID and Techsburg Inc. BAE Systems is the third competitor bidding to field DARPA’s OAV-II platform contender.
Team Aurora and Team Honeywell eventually received $77.4 million in contracts to develop their solutions.
As C4ISR Journal notes, Class II UAV designs will be considerably larger than the 4.5-pound RQ-11 Raven UAV currently used by Army battalions in Iraq. The Class II UAVs are designed to be be deployed from and return to one of the FCS’ armored personnel carriers or related vehicles.
Class III UAV System
Contracts for development of the larger Class III UAV system were also awarded by the Lead System Integrator (LSI) team. Contestants for the Class III UAV include:
Piasecki Aircraft Corp. is entering its Air Guard autogyro UAV. Autogyros are a sort of cross between fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, and are also called gyroplanes or gyrocopters. Piasecki Aircraft Corp’s news release has more details [PDF format].
Class III Team Air Guard includes Piasecki as Prime Contractor with responsibility for air vehicle development. Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Owego, NY provides subcontractor support for systems engineering, mission systems integration, software development, integration and test. Belzon, Inc. provides subcontractor support for logistics and training, Drexel University for the collision avoidance sensor system, and Georgia Institute of Technology for the UAV’s autonomy programming.
What Are “Class II” and “Class III” UAVs?
The Army’s concept of FCS involves a combination of manned vehicles, ground robots, and four UAV platform types, all connected by a high-capacity network that lets them work together seamlessly. UAV classification is determined by platform capability, mission and assigned operational requirements.
The Class II UAV system will provide reconnaissance, security/early warning, and target acquisition at the company level in support of line-of-sight, beyond-line-of-sight and non-line-of-sight engagements. The UAV will also perform target designation for beyond-line-of-sight engagements, by “painting” targets with a laser or related device and illuminating them for smart weapons like NetFires missile packs.
The Class II UAV’s weight limit is 112 pounds, which must include a suite of electro-optical sensors, a laser designator and the Future Combat Systems network communications package. Other requirements include a 16-km range and the ability to hover and watch a target for up to 2 hours. It will be vehicle mounted, capable of taking off and landing without an airfield. The UAV should have the ability to accomplish its mission either under its own control, or via a manual override that would let it be operated remotely by Army personnel.
Some observers have expressed concern that company-size units are better off with smaller, man-portable UAVs, especially given the air-mobility constraints imposed on the force if its critical UAVs must be launched from platforms like tanks, APC, or even HMMWVs that cannot fit into many US helicopters. These constraints may well make Class II UAVs unavailable to American forces in key situations. Experiments have been carried out in which UAVs fly from smaller robotic ground vehicles (UGVs); nevertheless, these AUMS technologies are still in their infancy, and the smaller size of these UGVs gives them mobility and control burden issues of their own on rough or broken ground.
FCS does envisage Class I UAVs down at the platoon level, which may be able to take the RQ-11 Raven’s place and pick up the slack. The Class I program is currently less advanced, however, and at 40 pounds even these options will be significantly less portable than existing Raven and Dragon Eye UAVs.
The larger Class III UAV system will have greater endurance and a larger payload-carrying capacity than the Class II system.
The Army’s requirements for these battalion-level UAVs state that in addition to the electro-optical sensor package, it must be able to carry payloads up to 215 pounds that will let it perform targeting, act as a local communications relay node for the network, and detect minefields. The Class III UAV will also provide remote reconnaissance and terrain information. It must have a 40-km range and be capable of staying aloft for six hours, and must be capable of taking off and landing without an airfield.
At the brigade level, meanwhile, the MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter UAV has already been selected as the Class IV UAV platform of choice. They will also serve aboard the USA’s new Littoral Combat Ships. It is anticipated at this point in time that combined orders from the US Army and Navy will total 192 Fire Scouts.
How Does the Class II & III Selection Process Work?
Class II and III UAV development will be carried out in three phases, with the FCS LSI team and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) developing different technologies in tandem until a final candidate system is selected for both FCS UAV classes.
For the Class II solution, DARPA initiated the Organic Air Vehicle II (OAV-II) program, strictly focused on ducted fan technology, while the LSI team led by Boeing and SAIC is ordered evaluate an alternative approach.
Similarly, for Class III, DARPA is investing in rotorcraft technology while the LSI teams will be investigating gyrocopter and fixed wing designs.
Phase 1, lasting approximately 10 months, will include requirements assessment and risk reduction trade studies on initial UAV concepts. This will lead to a down-select in mid-2006 to one candidate for the Class III system, and a decision on how best to proceed with development of the Class II system.
Selected LSI and DARPA candidates will then be evaluated for their suitability to meet FCS requirements during a 24-month concept maturation phase, culminating in a flight assessment of developmental prototypes in 2008. A down-select will then occur for the final System Design and Development (SDD) phase when the LSI, the US Army and DARPA will select the single best-value solution for each class of UAV.
Initial delivery of FCS integrated UAV systems to support wider system-of-systems testing with other FCS vehicles, components, etc. is slated to occur in 2010, with operational fielding of Class II and III UAV systems slated for 2014.
- DID (Dec 21/05) – FCS Spin-Out Plans Detailed
- DID (June 6/05) – U.S. FCS Program May Be Opened to Britain, Australia